The eighth seed UNC men’s basketball team (18-11, 10-6 ACC) fell, 85-62, to the ninth seed Wisconsin Badgers (18-12, 10-10 ACC) on Friday night in Indianapolis in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. This was head coach Roy Williams’ first time losing in the opening round of the tournament after 29 wins.
The game opened slowly as both teams were scoreless two minutes into the game. Wisconsin opened the scoring, and the Badgers' guards quickly racked up field goals until the deficit was brought to 8-2 with nearly five off the clock, UNC’s points coming from two free throws from first-year Kerwin Walton.
While the young UNC team sought to keep up with the experienced Badgers team, the Wisconsin shooters proved to be an issue. D’Mitrik Trice and Micah Potter made quick shots from the 3-point mark, but were answered by UNC’s first-year guards with a jumper from Caleb Love and a 3-point jumper from RJ Davis, bringing the score to 16-12 at the under-12 media timeout.
Sophomore guard Anthony Harris brought the score within two, before a rebound by Davis and a spin move layup by first-year big Day'Ron Sharpe tied things up. Wisconsin only led by four with just under seven minutes to play in the half, despite controlling the offensive glass and getting chances on wide-open 3-pointers.
Despite the deficit, UNC went ice cold, not scoring for over three minutes until Harris made a layup with under five to play. The Badgers were able to establish a 12-3 run to increase their lead to double digits, 32-21. In the final minutes of the opening half, Wisconsin’s Brad Davison sunk two 3-point jumpers to send the teams into halftime, 40-24.
Sophomore center Armando Bacot got his first bucket of the night to start the second half, going on to dominate with 15 points in just over eight minutes. But Trice and Davison, again, sank two more threes to keep the momentum in favor of the Badgers.
Add on a 3-ball for the Badgers from Aleem Ford and a jumper from Davison with 15 left to play, and the Tar Heels found themselves down 53-37. UNC came out with energy, but just couldn’t handle Wisconsin's pinpoint shooting.
The Badgers increased their lead to 15 with just under six minutes to play, and the Tar Heels’ efforts to chip away their lead simply weren't enough. Despite a last-minute push, the Tar Heels were trailing by 20 in the final minute, as Wisconsin continued to dominate until the end.
Who stood out?
The Badgers’ guards shined. Davison finished with 29 points and Trice with 21, while UNC’s main guard tandem of Walton and Love scored eight and 10 points, respectively.
Davison started the second half on fire, shooting 7-of-11 from the field and 3-5 from the three early. Bacot also came to play in the second, notching 15 points and four rebounds in the opening ten minutes.
But Davison remained the star of the show, finishing 5-7 from deep and adding 6 rebounds to his impressive scoring game.
When was it decided?
The experienced Badgers looked far more dangerous early and used their talented upperclassmen to dominate the glass and sink 3-pointers, while UNC struggled with bad shooting and reckless turnovers.
UNC started the second much better offensively with Bacot's huge scoring run, but it just wasn’t enough to match one of Davison's career games.
When the Badgers increased their lead to 15 late in the second and continued to attack the Tar Heels couldn’t dig themselves out of the hole.
Why does it matter?
Coming into Friday night’s match, it seemed like UNC was playing the best basketball it had played all season. Instead of proving they can win against experienced teams with their young talent, the Tar Heels fell flat, cutting both their season and tournament run short.
When do they play next?
With this loss, the Tar Heels are now done for the season. Wisconsin will take on top-seeded Baylor on Sunday, March 21.
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